Film review: Ruby Sparks

Ruby Sparks (M)

On general release from Sep 19

3 stars

Directorial duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who delivered 2006’s runaway hit Little Miss Sunshine return with the quirk factor amped up for their sophomore effort, Ruby Sparks.

Paul Dano (pictured), the grumpy teen brother in Little Miss Sunshine, plays introverted and neurotic author Calvin. He’s living off the proceeds of his successful debut novel, an instant American classic, but has suffered writer’s block ever since. Mooching around the house, leaving only for short strolls with his new pooch and to hit the gym with buff brother Harry, played with charm by Chris Messina, Calvin prefers staring absently at his dormant typewriter to forming real-world friendships.

Then one enchanted night he dreams of a kooky vision in red hair, with a fun persona that’s a little too good to be true. Until, that is, he wills her into existence after being encouraged to write about her by his psychologist (Elliott Gould).

First time scribe Zoe Kazan, who also plays the eponymous Sparks, can’t quite sell what is a genuinely interesting flight of fancy. It’s telling that when Harry first reads his brother’s manuscript, he challenges Calvin’s unrealistic representation of women. So hamstrung, what we have for at least half the movie is predictably cheesy, tried-and-tested rom com fare.

Things get more interesting as Calvin gradually exposes Ruby to the world, with enjoyably over-the-top cameos by Annette Benning and Antonio Banderas as his parents. Steve Coogan chews the scenery as Calvin’s drunk agent, and there’s a fantastic confrontation with his ex, played by Deborah Ann Woll.

When the fledgling relationship starts to go stale, a clued-in Harry suggests Calvin re-write Ruby however he wants, and the film suddenly lurches into very dark territory. While far more interesting, it’s a violent jolt, and one that Kazan’s inexperienced scriptwriting fumbles. She hasn’t the courage to follow through, either, with everything tied up neat and tidy by film’s close. 

Ruby Sparks is not terrible by any stretch, but it’s certainly no American classic.

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